We’re relaxing over a welcome drink in MGallery Collection's recently minted, 5-star boutique offering, the stylish Hotel Des Arts Saigon. A fellow guest plays a soft refrain on the grand piano, pausing only for an occasional sip of her drink. Glowing under golden lamplight, the grand piano takes pride of place in the hotel’s Café Bureaux Des Arts bar.
The Ho Chi Minh City hotel will be our home for the next few days and, its modern design melded with Indochine-style adds to an arresting hodge-podge of architectural styles in a city that is a beautiful jumble. A place of vibrant street life, endless bike traffic and a home for 8.4 million people.
Situated along the leafy border between the city’s districts one and three, many of the city's well known tourist attractions are just a short stroll away - including the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office, Independence Palace and the War Remnants Museum.
Inside the cool luxury of the lobby, staff dressed smartly in tailored suits and dresses of rich brocaded silk usher guests to the check in desks - artfully styled in gold and marble and reminiscent of something from the court of Louis XV.
The ground level introduces the hotel's modern and tasteful take on Indochine style. A mix of French and Vietnamese influences that became popular both domestically and for export from the 1930's on, the style combines the legacy of French colonialism with Vietnamese artisan woodwork and fabrics. The walls are adorned with original artworks by local artists.
Opulent yet approachable, our room exudes comfort. A stylish modern design delivers light and air into every corner in smart, functional ways. Separating the bathroom, a white, semi-opaque curtain can be drawn across the vanity area, doing away with bulky, useless walls. A floating mirror and freestanding vanity allow natural light to reach the shower. Bedside tables feature small floating draws in dark wood and lights echoing French chic hang delicately low from the ceiling. It's exotic with all the comforts of 5-star luxury.
Need to plug in your device? The room features international plugs and USB charging stations, while a large flatscreen is framed by a renaissance-style gilt frame. Wifi is free with a consistently strong signal and available throughout the building.
Importantly, the entire hotel is sound-proofed against the relentless traffic outside, so we are assured of a good night's rest.
The Social Club on level 23 offers diners fresh, stylish dining with the occasional burst of French-inspired cooking. Led by Executive Chef Anne-Cecile Degenne, the venue exudes accessible chic – it's a space designed to share good food and good times with friends.
The décor echoes late colonial themes – plush couches and high-backed chairs in rich fabrics, yet uses thoroughly modern materials combined with hand crafted Vietnamese woodwork. In fact, the hotel's owner had the authentic Victorian-era bar imported from England; the age-smoothened wood and mirror back gleams in the light of Victorian bulb chandeliers made out of crystal brandy decanters.
The menu features fresh produce sourced from local providores, including grilled beef cuts, pork and seafood, high-end bar-style meals like the wagyu beef burger and desserts, including a 'revisited' lemon curd tart or a superbly rich chocolate lava cake. Dishes are expertly prepared in the large open kitchen and it's not uncommon to see Anne-Cecile at the helm nightly.
Saigon Kitchen offers a flavoursome spread of Vietnamese, French, English and continental – style breakfast options during the morning and al a carte options during the day. Try the beef pho or steamed rice-paper rolls doused in sweet fish sauce for a local-style morning meal, or select from the range of fresh juices, deli meats, eggs station, housemade pastries and breads and even made-to-order fresh crepes and waffles. The coffee – Vietnamese style or espresso – is excellent.
Rooftop Pool and Bar
Social Club's rooftop pool and bar is the go-to, must see nightspot in Ho Chi Minh City. Most nights the bar is packed with guests from around the globe, as well as HCMC's young, well-heeled and hip. Created by Japanese rockstar design firm Super Potato the space is sleek, stark and frames stunning views of the city. DJ's play suave tunes by night and the crowd responds, moving to the beat of smooth French House and muted electro.
We take a seat beside the glass balustrade for an uninterrupted view of the city's night time neon splendour. Feeling adventurous, I take a walk across the glass bridge to the adjoining building - at 24 levels up it's not for the faint of heart. Evening swimmers languishing in the pool tread water and gaze into the distance.
We order from the bar's extensive cocktail menu; my partner's Bourbon Mint Julep is the ideal cool accompaniment to the warm evening. I decide to test the bar staff’s mastery of mixology through their ability to make an authentic bourbon whiskey sour ... and they deliver.
Twilight fades to night. The city below seems to speed up; pulsing in strobe to the beat of this amazing Asian metropolis. We sit above it all - surrounded by soft yellow light and energetic revellers – and watch the moon rise orange on the horizon.